The Courage to Dis-brand

Truth Courage Justice Apothecary Cans


An allegory: On one especially memorable family vacation when I was a pre-teen we drove from CA to WI (and back, but that’s another story) camping each night along the way.  Donner Memorial State Park in CA.  A last-minute offroad spot outside of Salt Lake City (with cows and a babbling brook.) Somewhere high in the Snowy Range in Wyoming, where we got altitude sickness. And then there was Nebraska, which was flat and took all day to cross.  US80  (now I-80, but also known as the Lincoln Highway, Oregon Trail and California Trail) is an old road and in Nebraska there are 72 miles of the most absolute straightness in all of the Interstate Highway System, not varying by more than a few yards. Back in the day it was still a field-flanked two-lane clogged with slow-moving farm equipment and a town with reduced speed limits every ten miles. I stared out the back window of our 1956 Ford Country Sedan Station Wagon at the endlessness of the landscape and at the huge wall of black clouds that followed behind us in the west the whole inching way. We kept just ahead of the thunderstorm until we stopped and set up camp for the night at some tidy midwestern roadside wayfarer court where every car there was from California. Then came the deluge. It wasn’t like you couldn’t see it coming!

This family vacation story is the current metaphor for my studio practice. For the past year or more, my art-making has been like a prolonged, often boring and sometimes ominous ride across Nebraska pursued by thunderheads. Try as I might to spin it,  I knew what was coming when I came to a full stop at year’s end: a metamorphic whirlwind. I wrote a few posts here in the Studio Journal about feeling the pause, but staying curious about it. About being quite d-o-n-e with making new rusty cans. About not knowing what was coming or if it would even include clay, but being willing to sit quiet in the back seat and let the evolution be the real thing.

Sure enough, The Tempest of Big Change washed me clean and frisky almost overnight. Here are some of my takeaways and directions, with more arriving every day.


  • I still want to work in clay, but I need to be more involved with its wet surfaces and how they will inform the fired piece.
  • I still want to make vessels, even functional ones, but they must be all mine, start to finish, and not ironic interpretations of other things.
  • It’s necessary for me to engage with my finished surfaces differently as well. To step away from underglaze-painting of products and brands, even original ones.
  • It’s crucial for me to spend more time with the process of making and less time with expecting certain outcomes.
  • I’m interested in subtler, more abstract pieces with less imagery, fewer words, and in finding my own kind of ceramic beauty.
  • I’m curious to see what happens when I return to mixed media and more sculptural ceramics.

So, the biggest realization here is that in order to honor and act on these Takeaways,  I must “dis-brand” myself in certain ways. Not only from making those rusty cans of branded products, but in a greater sense it means not making the works I have spent a goodly amount of years cultivating and getting known for. Gulp. Yet my art heart will not be denied and off I go through that magic portal that many creatives step into when change comes to them.

First stop is the “transitional” work you see in the photo. These are reworkings of former “cans of something” from my inventory which have been simplified and abstracted with a gold glaze and tags. The contents of them are meant to be positive and healing and utterly sincere. I think of it as an Apothecary Collection and think there will be many more. (I’m tempted to keep that flask of Courage, though!)

Directions for New Work:

  • I am handbuilding primarily by pinching and working with soft coils. If I make slabs – which is all I formerly did –  they are nearly always textured, carved, abraded, sgraffitoed, appliqued or otherwise amended from plain and smooth.
  • How can I go more eccentric and personal? Only I can make it authentic.
  • I am returning to glazes, especially the ones that help reveal textured surface or shapely forms.
  • Nearly daily I make a small pinched walking meditation vessel. The framework for this is: no tools but hands and heart, and pay attention each moment. There are no other marks to hit, no direction home.
  • What balms, unguents and elixirs does the world need? What love, kindness and gentle humor? What wonder?
  • Work comes before concepts and explanations. See what happens and describe it afterwards.

So there you have it. I have Dis-Branded myself. And it feels just right.

Liz Crain, who remembers very little about the drive back home from WI to CA. Except the Tree in the Rock roadside attraction just outside of Laramie, WY. And, soon after leaving the Tree, the fishtailing, swerving and rolling over and over down a long bare embankment where midway she told herself to close her mouth because dirt was getting in it. She remembers that even with no seatbelts and a metal Coleman ice chest tumbling around with them, no-one in her family was seriously hurt.  But certainly bruised and vulnerable and terrified to ride in the new Chevy Impala Station Wagon that her parents bought the next day to continue the journey. 





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14 thoughts on “The Courage to Dis-brand

  1. Two thumbs up!

    1. Thank you Rich! It’s so sweet to have your support.

  2. I love your realizations – less “head” more heart. What you have done in the past is a course of discovery and education: how much you can push clay, surface texture and glaze. There are also some other avenues for you: 1) you built up a following for your work. Continue to produce these objects – make a lot less of them, charge more….i.e., now that they have a “name” for themselves, you can charge more and spend less time. and 2) with the “new” time, allow yourself to “break free” of having to make something that will sell to the public. Make items for yourself, for your own happiness. We are also, as artists, in a time where expressing one’s anger at the political scene is probably a good exercise all around…. My 2 cents, but it’s definitely good to see you wanting and expressing the need for personal change. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, Linda! Thanks for describing this is ways I hadn’t thought of. It’s exactly true because while I still LIKE my cans, I feel completely called away for the time being. The thrill is back! And, funny thing, it helps me see the cans in a re-engaged way as well. All good!

  3. Hmmmm….. maybe something’s in the air…I too had basically stopped making for a few months and just got back in and am feeling my way. But first I took a hammer to enough pieces that I filled a large garbage bin. Looking for my own voice…. Best of luck to you Liz in your new direction (s). It takes courage to break away and begin anew, but that’s art ! Looking forward to seeing your new work

    1. Well now, nothing wrong with stepping away from anything that no longer suits. And a smashing good purge helps our bodies understand it as well. The rub is discovering the next thing to get excited and curious about, recognizing it and diving back in. clay takes so friggin’ long! I’m essentially testing the water with my toe right now. Much love and best thoughts as you do the same, Bonnie!

  4. Congratulations! This is huge!

    You have probably heard me moan about the pitfalls of ‘signature style’ on and off for years on my blog, but it perhaps takes an extraordinary circumstance and not a little courage to be willing to change. We can get too comfortable with our personas in the studio, and that complacence eventually gets boring enough that we are condemned to a half-life as artists: We go through the motions but the passion is gone. We are animated husks churning out product. We are less curious than satisfied. And that can be dangerous.

    So well done for figuring this out and being brave enough to get back on the path. Lately I am a bit lost myself. At some unknown point in my process selling seems to have replaced interest in making. I mean I hate selling, but I was only making in order that I would sell things. My making had become subservient to what I could flog in the marketplace. Yikes!!! That coupled with the fatigues of dealing with an election gone wrong has seen a loss of beauty from my world. I understand what makes one pot better than the next, but I don’t exactly care. I am no longer thrilled by beauty. The magic has been sucked from the world. I look at my studio from the outside and I can no longer understand the person who spent the last decades enfolded in its embrace. This is the tragedy of my life at the moment…..

    But I’m not giving up! This weekend I’m attending a workshop with Linda Christianson, who taught me for a semester back in the day, and I’m hoping I can recapture at least some of what has been lost. I don’t yet have a plan of action like you do. I must first rediscover my curiosity, and that is the stumbling block I fail to clear.

    Wish me luck! I am encouraged you are finding your feet again 🙂 Keep us posted!

    1. Dearest Carter, luck and love and an inoculation of curiosity! This is so freakin’ hard! Yet I think being willing to look at it all unblinkingly is the root of the inevitable changes in what you do next with your hands and heart. And how you think and feel about it. The workshops I attended with Kevin Snipes and Sunshine Cobb last year gave me some nuggets to feed off of. My Beastly Beauty philosophy class addressed the need for new meanings. I’m betting what you get with Linda C and all the other places you are searching will help you find your mojo again and you will know it when you see it. Nothing finer than holding something you have made and seeing that it is “good.” Fondly, Liz

  5. Liz. Liz. Sister. I feel it too.
    I have had a few screeching halts in both my creative and personal life and do not pretend to be a master at any of it, but it does help to take as my shots of courage and sometimes slam the shotglass into the fire, wipe the residue with the back of your hand and carry the fuck on.
    Gd bless the work of your hands.

    1. Lisa, this is great! I broke some of my older work on purpose and felt some of that “shotglass into the fire” wonderfulness. And yes, whenever I asked myself do I still want to work with clay, and despaired of not knowing for sure, all I could do was carry the fuck on…

  6. Sending you confirming thoughts on your transition. Fully anticipating your new work.

    1. Yay Linda, deepest thanks for that. It’s painful to describe all this, but it’s excruciating to NOT describe it. Now we both are anticipating!

      1. I am glad that all of you have described your journeys. It is very important to share so that the rest of us will understand we are not crazy and we do not stand alone.

        1. Yeah, apparently “The Pause and Change” is part of this journey. Why did Dylan go electric? Why did Mondrian switch to his grids or Picasso end his Blue Period? I understand all of that so much better! And when I read of the other artists who I KNOW doing similar it is reassuring for sure.

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